The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)
“On the streets of Tokyo, speed needs no translation…”
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Lucas Black, Zachery Ty Bryan, Shad Moss
Synopsis: Alabama teenager Sean Boswell becomes a major competitor in the world of drift racing after moving in with his father in Tokyo to avoid a jail sentence in America.
For the third instalment of the Fast and Furious franchise, the producers temporarily dispensed with the services of Paul Walker as they felt he was too old for the part (although they brought him back for the fourth and subsequent instalments up until his premature death in 2013). The reason for his dismissal is ironic really, when you look at the age of Lucas Black, who assumes the lead role. At 24, Black could easily pass for someone approaching 30, and yet he’s playing a kid of 17, despite having a physique that’s too well developed for a teenager and the kind of five o’clock shadow of which most teenage boys can only dream. Watching him mix it with Yakuza gangsters, it’s impossible to keep in mind the fact that he’s supposed to be a school kid, but then perhaps that’s the idea, because the plot assumes the improbable proportions of a teenage petrol head’s wet dream.
In a story that’s completely unconnected to the previous two movies in the franchise (and which actually takes place after 2009’s Fast & Furious), Black plays Sean Boswell, a 17-year-old working class Southerner whose scrapes with the law over his reckless driving sees him and his mother drifting from town to town. His latest exploit, which opens the movie, sees him wrecking his car after racing a school jock around a half-built housing estate and ending up in custody once again. For most kids, Boswell’s behaviour would guarantee a stay in some juvenile detention centre, but this is La-La Land, which means he gets shipped off to live with his marine father (Brian Goodman) in Tokyo. Boswell doesn’t speak Japanese and doesn’t get on with his dad, but that’s no reason to think things are going to work out now, is it?
It’s not long before Boswell finds himself in all sorts of trouble following his arrival. He falls foul of DK (Brian Tee), the nephew of a Yakuza gangster, when he starts sniffing around DK’s girlfriend Neela (Nathalie Kelley), who’s half-Japanese and half-Australian and therefore considered a Gaijin (outsider) just like Boswell. But he also gets taken under the wing of Han (Sung Kang), DK’s sort-of partner, a man of independent wealth who owns a stock of souped-up motors in which he teaches Boswell the technique of drifting (simultaneously accelerating and braking to force a car’s rear around when taking corners at speed). There’s also an American kid called Twinkie (Bow Wow), a teenage black marketeer who quickly becomes Boswell’s sidekick.
The plot is far-fetched and by-the-numbers, but then fans of the franchise aren’t attracted to the F&F movies by their plots so it would be a little unfair to judge Tokyo Drift on that basis. They want to see fast cars and hot women, and as usual, Fast & Furious delivers on that score, although every time the camera starts following some swaying Asian butt it seems to get distracted by the sparkling engines of some nearby muscle car. The link between women and motors is inextricable in the F&F world, with one’s capability behind the wheel correlating exactly with one’s attractiveness to members of the opposite sex. Of course, it also helps to be able to adopt a cool, laid-back pose, which everyone here has evidently practiced to perfection.
The decision to move episode 3 of The Fast & Furious series to Japan was a wise one which was needed to liven up a franchise saddled with an unavoidable tendency for repetition, and talented director Justin Lin makes good use of its Tokyo locations. The quick-cut editing of the race sequences is so lightning-fast that at times it’s difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on, but it’s a technique that also generates a visceral thrill of excitement when backed up by a pounding rock soundtrack. Those expecting more than shots of fast cars and hot women are better off looking elsewhere, but fans of the franchise won’t be disappointed.